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December 16, 2013


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Orin Kerr

My sense is that hiring a search firm is in significant part a CYA move. If there ends up being a problem with the person selected, or if the pool of candidates is objectionable to someone, or if the process otherwise is criticized ex post, the school can say that they hired a top search firm and that therefore any problem isn't their fault.

Ian Holloway

I've been on both sides of the equation. I've been hired as a dean twice - once without a firm involved, and once with. I've also sat on search committees which used a search firm. My view is that much depends on the firm in question. A good search firm can push a committee to get out of its comfort zone - which might be increasingly important as the "conventional" pool of candidates becomes more shallow. They can also point out when we're engaging in group think, or when we're applying (sometimes unconsiously) pre-conceptions and biases.

As a candidate, I think that my experience with the search firm made me sharper. I had already been a dean for several years at that stage, yet they asked me questions that I'd never thought of before, and that caused me to think more deeply about myself. It was uncomfortable by times, but I honestly think that I became a much better candidate - and hopefully, a somewhat better dean - because of them.


No magic formula but search firms also typically are able to cull together candidates who they know are interested, saving time, can do background checks more professionally (not always but law profs not particularly skilled at this) and are also often better able to talk people into being part of a search since the norm seems to have become that no one is supposed to express interest and has to instead be talked into a search.

Jacqueline Lipton

I wonder if there might also be a "virtuous circle" effect (or whatever the opposite of a vicious circle is) in that as more and more schools use search firms, these firms build up knowledge and expertise that becomes increasingly valuable thus making their services more worthwhile over time?


I know a law school that used a search firm for its last dean search. The school ended up hiring internally one of its own candidates. The candidate vetting was substandard, even missing some potential issues. The whole process was expensive and highly secretive as the search firm tends to place a lot of emphasis on protecting the interests of applicants rather than faculties. Thus, lots of secrecy, confidentiality and surprise -- all with substandard results. Save the enormous fees to fund additional VAP lines...


One danger is that the search firm, because they feel they "know" the candidates who are repeat players, might substitute the firm's subjective judgment for the subjective judgment of the committee. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is subject to debate. But a committee needs to be aware of this possibility to be able to reduce it.

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